Winching snowcats pose danger to nighttime skiers
January 8, 2014
WINTER PARK — Steep groomed runs at Winter Park Resort are usually desirable among skiers. To create the corduroy on the steep runs, snowcats utilize a winch system to help them get up and down steep grades.
To "winch" up a steep run, snowcat operators will connect a winch cable to a fixed anchor at the top of the run, usually installed in the summer, and then will use that anchor to move up and down the steep runs. The cable the snowcats utilize to winch will usually stretch down the run and will sit a few feet above the ground.
While some skiers get their kicks bombing the steep groomed runs, others find pleasure in snowshoeing or skinning up the mountain at night while no one else is around.
But enjoying the peace and quite of the mountain at night poses a risky situation when snowcats are winching up the mountain.
"The dangerous part is you might have a half-mile of cable at neck height," said Ron Richards, slope maintenance supervisor for Winter Park Resort.
The cable is extremely hard to see in the dark, and with 19,000-pounds of snowcat on the end, the cable can potentially clothesline unsuspecting skiers on the slopes after night falls.
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The resort will close down runs where it is conducting winching operations and will alert skiers with signs. The snowcats also utilize flashing lights to alert skiers to their presence, though it is still difficult to see snowcats over the tops of hills.
Richards suggests that skiers be aware of their surroundings when on the slopes after hours and to keep an eye out for signs that say runs are closed for grooming operations. Look for the flashing lights of snowcats and steer clear of those areas.
Snowcats have the potential to move side to side while winching, which can create an even more dangerous situation for unaware skiers and snowshoers.
"You just have to respect that," Richards said. "When you see the lights or any other sign or warning, just go the other way."
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334